Brown v. Board of Education: Getting the Picture One Year Later

Photograph shows a line of African American and white school girls standing in a classroom while boys sit behind them.

School Integration, Barnard School, Washington, D.C. Photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran, May 27, 1955. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.03119

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, declaring that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” This decision was pivotal to the struggle for racial desegregation in the United States.

A year later, in May 1955, Thomas O’Halloran, on assignment for U.S. News & World Report, visited several integrated schools in Washington, D.C. to capture some images of African American and white students learning together. I feature an image he shot that shows a line of African American and white school girls standing in a classroom while boys sit behind them.

Some of O’Halloran’s images ran in U.S. News & World Report in a June 10, 1955 article titled “Do Mixed Schools Really Work?: After One Year–Answers as Found in Washington, D.C.” The text of the article offered impressions on the success of the integration effort, but so did the pictures. What might viewers conclude from this one?

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3 Comments

  1. Jennifer
    May 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    I am a teacher near DC and I just taught my 3rd graders about how our country used to be segregated and how that effected schools. Pictures like this fill me with joy as I reflect on my own diverse class, full of children from every continent (save Antarctica!). I think I’ll show this to them and use the primary source analysis tool offered by the LOC!

    I conclude in this photo that the girls are in line waiting for something, perhaps their marks, and that they are all exercising patience. I think this because my students often wait in line like this, but mixed boys and girls. Patience is hard for the kiddos.

    I love how dressed up they are!

  2. kiyohisa Tanada
    May 18, 2012 at 3:06 am

    This image wins for “World War II” and “is the photograph” ten years later.
    The smile of girls symbolizes peaceful U.S.A.

  3. Gooshlem
    March 24, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Looks to me like an indication of “white flight”. I can only see 4 (at most) white kids and 15 black ones.

    But in any case they are all cute and friendly looking! And probably less rowdy than today’s kids…

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